Sunday, May 29, 2011

Does Khan Academy Represent the Future of Education?

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post about Khan Academy, a FREE online resource of math videos produced by Sal Khan, former hedge fund analyst turned educational visionary.  Khan has turned some math tutorials he produced for his nieces and posted on YouTube into a collection of 2,300 math (with a scattering of other topics) videos that are the foundation of his vision of producing an entire educational curriculum, available free of charge to anyone in the world with an Internet connection.

Khan (who comes across as a nice guy and not a big ego person) has been a rising star in the media looking for their next educational "Superman" (as in "Waiting for Superman"), now that Michele Rhee's aura has been tarnished with Erasergate and the fact that she and her mentor were kicked out by the voters.  CNN labeled him "Bill Gate's Favorite Teacher," Bloomberg Businessweek called him "a quasi-religions figure in a country desperate for a math Moses," and there is an active online campaign to have him nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

The latest on the Khan bandwagon is Steve Pearlstein, the Pulitzer-prize winning business and economics columnist for the Washington Post.  In an article entitled "Mark them tardy to the revolution," Pearlstein posits that Khan's offering will upend all of education, just as Napster disrupted the music industry and Craiglist and the Huffington Post threatened the old models of the newspaper business.

According to Pearlstein, Khan and his ilk--"master teachers"--will produce videos that will be used by thousands or millions of students, reducing the number of people who will need to be employed as teachers.  The video tutorial model, in his view, will also eliminate some of the current bedrocks of the educational system, such as age-specific school levels, school calendars, and grades (Pearlstein writes "As Khan loves to point out, grading will suddenly become simple:  Everyone gets an A in every course, with the only question being how long it takes each student to earn it.")  Given this approach, Pearlstein envisions that within a decade, educational quality will go up as costs go down, learning will become highly individualized, and "look for teaching to be transformed from an art to something much closer to a science."

My first reaction:  I can't wait to see what Valerie Strauss, Pearlstein's Washington Post colleague who writes The Answer Sheet education blog for the website, has to say about these predictions.

My second reaction is this sounds like another great prognostication by someone who doesn't know much about education.  Unfortunately, these days, those seem to be the ones who carry all the weight, since no one seems to care about what people who are actually trained for or work in education have to say.

Now, I'm not saying that some of these ideas might not be good ideas.  But does Mr. Pearlstein really think it will be that easy?  We've long ago abandoned the agrarian lifestyle that first set up our "summers off" educational calendar, but after about a century of resistance to changing that calendar, Pearlstein thinks we're going to talk families out of it within 10 years?  Good luck with that.  Pearlstein thinks we are going to do away with grades and just let everyone work at their own speed until they've mastered the content?  Did he read his own paper's story about the DC-area school that tried eliminating the use of F grades (read my blog post about it here), which lasted ONE WEEK due to vehement public opposition after the Post publicized the policy (read my follow-up post here)?  Again, personally, I agree with the concept--that is certainly what we do as homeschoolers--but I think Pearlstein is WAY underestimating the amount of conservatism there is about education, both among educators and among the public they serve.

My biggest issue, however, is that this is just another example of the "Superman" syndrome--the idea that some one new wonderful person or thing is going to come along and save education--and money as well!  The one thing we know about education is that it is complicated, and diverse, and challenging, and ever changing.  And it will always be those things, because it is a business about developing people, and people are complicated, and diverse, and challenging, and ever changing.

This is not, by any means, a dig at Mr. Khan or Khan Academy.  I like the guy, and I think what he is doing is great.  And it is wonderful that Bill Gates and his son get off on sitting down and watching dozens of Khan's math videos together.  But it is not like that at our house.  My son doesn't enjoy them and doesn't learn that well from them.  He is not a great fan of video instruction in general.  ESPECIALLY for math, videos don't have the interaction he needs to keep from zoning out.  So when we have been working on a math concept that I've been doing a bad job of explaining, and so he understands why he is watching and is interested in having something he is trying to understand made clearer, he might watch and learn from these videos.  But in general, this is not the solution for him.

I'm dubious of the argument that having everyone watch Khan Academy vidoes--but at their own pace--constitutes "highly individualized learning."  I do think technology does present an option for creating lots of individualized modules on all sorts of topics.  But for education to work for everyone, there have to be lots of different types of modules--videos, podcasts, computer programs, simulations, role playing games, virtual reality plays, I don't know, but tons of different types of approaches for the tons of different types of minds.  And who is going to match all these great resources with these diverse minds?  I don't think our computers are sophisticated enough for that yet.  It's still going to take people---people who are not only familiar with all these resources, but who understand education and understand minds and understand children and their needs and behaviors.  

In short, I don't see education having fewer staff and lower operating costs anytime soon--certainly not within 10 years.  But, then, what do I know?  Since I have both a Masters in Education AND over 20 years experience working in education, obviously no one wants to listen to my opinion.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Game for Developing Left Brain AND Right Brain

I am very interested in the learning theories around the dominance of different hemispheres of the brain--the whole "left brain/right brain" business.  Both according to the test we've taken and just observation in our everyday lives, my son and I are both right-brained--intuitive, global, diffuse (some might say "scattered") thinkers.  My husband, on the other hand, is left-brained--sequential, narrowly-focused, organized, one-thing-at-a-time, logical thinker.  

Of course, as the theories always say, no one (at least, no one without a brain injury or something) works out of just one half of the brain.  We all can access both parts of the brains when we need to, but for most of us, it is easier or more natural to operate from one hemisphere or the other--leading up to apply the wrong hemisphere thinking to some tasks, just because that mode of thinking feels more natural to us.

However, I just came across a game to help us with that.  The computer-based game Twinoo, by Dawn of Play, is a fast-paced game that requires you to draw on both sides of your brain.  On the left side of the screen, a simple math problem flashes up, and you only have a few seconds to choose which of the three possible answers is the correct one.   

Pretty easy so far, isn't it?

Except at the same time, a color mixing problem flashes up on the right side, and you have to select the correct answer for that one as well.  This time, your "equation" is a square of one color (red, say) and another square of a different color (for example, blue).  You have to decide which of the three squares of color below the problem is the right solution (in this case, purple).

That doesn't sound too bad either.  The thing is, the color equations usually aren't that clear cut.  So, for example, you will get an aqua square and a light yellow square, and you have to figure out which of the three shades of green below is the most likely for that combination.  

Plus, the time is ticking down on both of them at the same time.  You go back and forth, answering both questions, until you've missed three on one side or the other.  Then the game is over.

The best I've been able to do is 21 correct on both sides, for a total score of 42.  I am finding that I am getting better, least sometimes.  And it isn't consistent for me about which side I mess up on--the left brain side or the right brain side.

I will also say I don't think this is the greatest test for right brain dominance.  While I am right brained, I am not primarily a visual learner.  I haven't tried it with my son yet, who is very visual, but I suspect he would be much better at it than I am.  Of course, he is pretty much better than I am at all video games... he has those quick reflexes, if nothing else.

Anyway, it's a fun game to play for a bit, and I think it might just help develop both sides of your brain.  At least, it couldn't hurt!

You can play the game online here, or get it for $0.99 for the iPod or iPad at the Apple App Store or for Android devices at the App Store on Amazon.

Monday, May 23, 2011

What Education is Supposed to Be About

It's getting to be that time of year when, whether you are student or teacher, homeschool or institutionalized school, we're all just ready for school to be over. ( Of course, most homeschoolers I know continue to homeschool over the summer as well, but usually in a more laid-back way, especially since most of the group classes, coops, and projects are suspended during the traditional school "summer vacation" period.)  It is not a season when most of us wax eloquently about the wonders of schools, especially these days when the end-of-the-year focus is so fixed on standardized tests and numerical quantifications of our students' performance. 

So it was such a treat last night when, as I was reading Gary D. Schmidt's latest wonderful book, Okay For Now, when I came upon a beautiful passage that reminded me what education is really supposed to be about.

In this book, set in 1968, 8th grader Doug Swieteck (who also appeared in Schmidt's Newbery Honor award-winning book, The Wednesday Wars) is the sole transplant to a new junior high in a new town who is attending a pre-school orientation for new students.  Divided alphabetically, Swieteck is assigned to the principal's section, where he has to listen to rule after rule after rule of school regulations--being on time, boys keeping their hair short (1968, remember), girls keeping their skirts long, etc.  He acts up a bit and is excused to go to the bathroom.

On the way there, he overhears what the science teacher, Mr. Ferris, is tell the other group of incoming students.  Here is what Mr. Ferris tells them:

"Within a year, possibly by next fall," he was saying, "something that has never before been done, will be done.  NASA will be sending men to the moon.  Think of that.  Men who were once in classrooms like this one will leave their footprints on the lunar surface."  He paused.  I leaned in close against the wall so I could hear him.  "That is why you are sitting here tonight, and why you will be coming here in the months ahead.  You come to dream dream.  You come to build fantastic castles into the air.  And you come to learn how to build the foundations that make those castles real.  When the men who will command that mission were boys your age, no one knew that they would walk on another world someday.  No one knew.  But in a few months, that's what will happen.  So, twenty years from now, what will people say of you?  'No one knew then that this kid from Washington Irving Junior High School would grow up to do".....what?  What castle will you build?"

Thank you, Mr. Ferris, and thank you, Gary Schmidt, for reminding us all what it is that we teachers and student get to do together.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Amococo: The Junction of Art, Math, Science, and Imagination

uminaria by Architects of Air.  This is our second visit to a luminarium, and we have found it to be such a truly awe-inspiring experience that all I can say if one ever comes close to where you live, make sure you go see it.

The luminaria are vast, colorful walk-through labyrinths of intense color and pure light, all contained by the most gossamer of vinyl walls.  They are based on the technology of bouncy houses, but instead of creating a bouncy kid frenzy, they become fantasy mazes that are beautiful and meditative.  They are so inspired by Arabic architecture, so there are some tessellations and almost opt-art effects along with the almost psychedelic colored mazes.

Words totally don't do these exhibits justice, and even pictures can't really present the wonder-filled experience.  But here are some of my favorite pictures from the current Raleigh exhibit, which is called Amococo:

Is it science fiction?

Or following a white rabbit?

Maybe there will be a hobbit in the next section...

Optical illusions

Capturing the rainbow

Hope to see you at Amococo!

In Raleigh, the exhibit will run this today and tomorrow from 11-7 in conjunction with Artsplosure.  It costs $5 per person, but I think it is well worth the money...we spent an hour and a half there.  If you don't live by Raleigh, well, then I hope there will be one visiting a location by you soon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Should We Refrain from Telling Our Children that They Are Smart?

We are doing our annual testing right now, which reminds me of a debate about the use and consequences of praising your children's intelligence that has been popular lately.  Sparked primarily by articles like  The Secret to Raising Smart Kids (Hint:  Don't Tell Your Kids That They Are), the theory goes that praising children's intelligence encourages them to think that their academic achievements are based on an inherent quality (intelligences) that they either have or don't have.  If they think they don't have it, they won't try; if they think they do have it, they either coast by on their natural talents or try to avoid anything that might demonstrate that they don't have as much intelligence as you think they do.

The alternative advocated by psychological research Carol Dweck, on whose studies most of this advice comes from, is to praise the amount of effort that children put into their work.  Dweck found that students who received effort-related praise continue to put more hard work into their studies and were willing to take on more challenging tasks to prove how much more hard work they could do.

It all sounds good.  But I'm always suspicious of these media-pushed, black and white, simple panaceas for educational issues.  So I did a little checking, and found an excellent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled Carol Dweck's Attitude:  It's Not About How Smart You Art.  As I expected, this discussion shows that the whole situation is much more complicated than the one-page version being shared on parenting websites around the web.

The article shows that in three recent studies done to test that theory, student performance did not reflect the predictions of Dweck's framework. In one case, the researchers believed that the "hard work" mindset could be just as detrimental as the "innate intelligence" is supposed to be in Dweck's theory (that is, those who believe that their scores are due to hard work and who expect to do badly will self-sabotage their work by listening to distracting music so that they can blame their poor performance on the music, rather than on their work).

The Chronicle article also talks about Dweck's earlier work, which was focused on an outside control/deterministic viewpoint versus a self-determining perspective, When I read about this research, it seems to me that this locus of control is really what is most important, rather than the "innate intelligence" versus "hard work" perpective per se. That is, if you aren't convinced that your performance and your life is under your control, you can find "outside" factors to blame your failure on, whether that is blaming your parents' DNA contributions to your lack of intelligence, or bad music or outside life factors for your inability to do the work necessary.

Another thing to consider about this "praise the effort" system is the fact that is is diametrically opposed to the actual assessments students face in schools these days.  With all the high-stake testing that is running education today, it makes NO DIFFERENCE whether the student worked really, really hard preparing for and taking the test, or goofed off all year and treated the test as a joke.  If the hard-working students don't achieve the minimum score, they fail and are held back, and if the lazy goof-offs ace the test, they are promoted.  So I think raising students' hopes about the value of hard work could be counter-productive or misleading when the bottom line is that amount of effort doesn't count at all; only the number of right answers does.

I found a briefing paper by the Association of American Colleges and Universities entitled Greater Expectations to Improve Student Learning that I found useful about the general issue of expectations in education.  For example,  it says that Americans are particularly attached to this whole "innate intelligence" scenario, while other cultures attribute much more to hard work rather than raw ability.  I also thought Daniel T. Willingham's Ask the Cognitive Scientist column on How Praise Can Motivate--Or Stifle to be a great resource in thinking about this topic.

As is typical for me, I think the "either or" approach is wrong. So in our case, I've told my son that he is smart, because he is, and I will continue to tell him that.  I'm kind of an encouraging, "praise-y" personality anyway, and I think it would feel unnatural and inauthentic of me to withhold my assessment of his intelligence because of some research studies.

However, I also tell him that because I know how smart he is, I have high expectations for the quality of his work, and what other parents or teachers accept as "good enough" for other students may not be "good enough" for what I expect from him.  And we discuss the fact that quality is a factor of effort as well as natural talent.  We talk a lot about all sorts of gifted people and how hard they had to work to manifest their gifts, even with their natural abilities. So Michael Jordan had an incredible body for basketball--but that didn't mean that he hasn't practiced for hours almost every day of his adult life. Likewise with Mozart, or Picasso, or Einstein, or Maya Angelou or all takes work to refine and apply whatever natural abilities we might have.

Don't get me wrong--I think it is a good thing to read and consider research like this--IF you are looking at the full picture, which usually has a lot more nuances than the "sound bite" version we get in a single page in a magazine or website.  But in the end, we have to do what feels right as parents and teachers.  And usually, that is a more common sense, mixed approach than the typical distinct treatment populations of research studies.

So if you want to tell you children they are smart--go ahead!  Just don't forget to tell them that isn't the whole picture.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Curriculum Resource: Freedom RIders

Tomorrow starts a new series on PBS about the 1961 civil rights activists known as the Freedom Riders.   The Freedom Riders were challenging the laws regarding segregated travel by having interracial couples sitting together on buses, as well as having black people ride in the front section of the bus, which was reserved for blacks.  Altogether, 436 Freedom Riders--75% of whom were male, 75% of whom were under 30, but even split between blacks and whites-- participated in 60 different rides within the South, despite the fact that they faced mob violence and arrest during their travels.  Their courageous stance not only awakened public awareness of civil right issues, but provoked the Kennedy administration to find a way to end the segregation of buses and trains and terminals involved in interstate travel.

There are several resources for using these programs with middle and high schoolers.  There is a study guide entitled Democracy in Action that has background information, discussion questions, and additional online resources for each of the shows.  There is a website from which you can download short clips from the entire show, along with some information and thought points.  There is also a blog where 40 college students spent 10 days in May tracing the Freedom Riders routes and recording their thoughts and perspectives comparing their ride to the ones the Freedom Riders faced in 1961.

So if you would like to turn these programs into an opportunity to have some fruitful discussion with your tween/teen children or students, check out these resources.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Getting the Most from Your Google Searches

I don't know about you, but I would be lost without Google.  I truly can't imagine what it was like for parents to homeschool before Google and the World Wide Web.  And my son has grown up with an idea of Google as an omnipotent information source.  I think he was only five when, after asking me one of those questions that has been pondered for ages (like "which came first, the chicken or the egg?"), he responded to my answer that I didn't know with a sigh and a disgusted face and said, "Mom, just Google it."

That said, I've only recently realized how much I had been missing about how to use this powerful tool.  Here are a few of the features that I've only learned about lately:
  • Did you know you could use Google as a calculator? It serves as an advanced math calculator, in fact, since it can give you the answer to math equations with symbols that I've long ago forgotten what they stand for.  
  • Did you know that they have a special search engine, called Google Scholar, that is geared to searching through scholarly literature?  This search engine attempts to rank the responses to your quest the way an academic researcher would--that is, looking not only at the text of the article, but weighing factors such as the author, where it was published, and how many times it had been cited in other scholarly journals, before ordering the responses to your search request.
  • Did you know that if you are looking for something within a particular website, but it doesn't have its own internal search engine, you can make Google do a site-specific search?
  • Did you know you could use Google to give you conversions, like changing dollars into English pounds, or degrees Farenheit into degree Centigrade, or other metric conversions of distance and weight?
  • Did you know you could use Google as a dictionary?
Well, maybe you did, but I didn't.  But Google Education is here to the rescue!  They have recently developed a series of posters for teachers to post in the classroom to educate students about search engine terminology, symbols, and best practices.   You can download them here, and even if you don't print them out as posters, you can keep the documents on your computer when you need a quick reminder about how to search for, say, Martin Luther King Jr. quotes ONLY during the Kennedy Administration, or gathering information about twilight without venturing into vampire territory.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How Do You Know When You Are Done?

Even though we homeschool, we are in our final push towards the end of "school."  Now, most of the homeschoolers I know consider that they homeschool year round.  However, at least in our community, most of the organized classes and coops and sports and such are organized around the traditional school calendar of August/September through April/May/June.  To some extent, that is just a practical economic decision--lots of facilities that host homeschoolers during the day when most students are in school can make a lot more money over the summer by running camps.  But I think most of us enjoy the break from the scheduled events and having to prepare classes and events for multiple students beyond our own, and use the summer to just homeschool on our own and to do the typical summer things with vacations and swimming and the like.  At least for us, summer is a good time to catch up on some of those things that we don't tend to do in groups--things like grammar and spelling and such.

But how do you know when you are done?  When you are homeschooling, which means you basically have the same teacher in the same "school" for as many years as you homeschool?

In our case, our local homeschool group holds an annual student showcase on the first Saturday in June each year.  Participating families get a table on which to display whatever they want to share about what they have been doing for the past 12 months.  We invite family members, friends, neighbors, and the general public to come, which helps the community better understand all the things that homeschoolers do. In addition, our children get to hear from someone besides US about the quality and interesting nature of the work they have been doing for the past year.  It is also an opportunity for the parents to assess all the things we have accomplished over the year (given that, overachievers that we tend to be, we tend to focus on all the things we HAVEN'T gotten around to doing), and that is a really good feeling.

Everyone does their showcase exhibits differently, but for the past several years, our family's focus has been on creating an electronic portfolio.  We create a DVD of me interviewing my son about what he thinks are the highlights from the past year in the different disciplines---language arts, history, science, math, art, etc.  The visuals behind his discussion of favorite or most valuable aspects of the past year's learning are photos or videos that relate to the project he is describing.  For us, that is the best way to remember, re-evaluate, and record all the many things we've done over a year of homeschooling.

However, since he is now in middle school (hence the name of this blog, right?),  I'm also starting to think about how to know when we are DONE done--as in, done with homeschooling and ready to move on to college or employment (or some combination of the two).    There was a great article in the Washington Post about that yesterday in their education section.  Entitled "How high school should really end," it describes one high school's graduation requirements beyond the typical standardized test.  Seniors at this school must develop a portfolio that demonstrates (1) their plans for the coming year; (2) proof of their competency in the major subject areas; and (3) the positive impact they have had on the world.  They must also present the results of a senior year project in which they show major learning through a significant project in the topic of their choosing.

I love this kind of thing as an end to our pre-collegiate education, and plan to do something like this when my son gets to an appropriate age and level.  I think that any student who can pull off the above will be ready to take on the world, whether it is through college, work, travel, volunteerism, or the other paths that young adults follow.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Discussing the Death of Osama bin Laden with High Schoolers

It can be difficult for us as parents and teachers to know how to approach emotional but potentially controversial current events, such as the recent raid and death of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, with our middle schoolers and teenagers.  However, at least in the case of the Osama bin Laden case, the White House has some online resources to help us out.

On May 5, 2011, the White House sponsored a webinar on this topic for middle school and high school students.  The person officiating the event was Ben Rhodes, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor.  Rhodes spent 10 minutes of the 30 minute webinar giving the White House perspective on the history and reasons why President Obama felt this course was necessary, and giving some fact about the attack itself.  Rhodes then spent the next 20 minutes answering questions from the 1,700 inquiries sent him by middle and high school students.

I think Rhodes did a good job presenting the Administration's perspective in a pretty straight-forward way, and his responses answer a lot of questions that may be in your children's minds, even if they can't verbalize them.  So I think this can be a useful resource in discussing this issue with them.  While the webinar is obviously over, you can access the recordings at the Discovery Education website under the heading A Discussion on Osama bin Laden.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Teaching and Parenting Lessons from Peter Jackson and Martin Luther

Recently, I had one of those times where I had to prepare to teach a class on a topic that I knew I could find an already-written lesson plan on the Internet, download it, read it, and be done in 15 minute, 30 minutes tops.  But that's not what I did.  I looked at a couple of existing lesson plans, but then I started to research the topic myself.  I found some interesting leads, and followed them for a while, and then got an idea for something I thought would be a great way to present it.  But that idea required props, which required a trip to a couple of different stores the next day.  Props, alas, don't make themselves, so once I got my materials, I started downloading graphics and such, but I didn't like the first set, nor the second set....let's try a different search term...oooh, that's better....needs a little manipulation...then printing and cutting out, then some crafting, and of course I have to make enough for the entire class.....  Needless to say, several hours later, when everyone else in the house had gone to bed and I'm still working on this project, I think to myself, "Is it worth it?"

I know that every teacher and every parent has been there.  Whether it is staying up late preparing a lesson for the next day, or driving our children here and there to lessons and sports and scouts and theater, or even if it is a single parent working two jobs who is up at midnight debating whether to spend the time to prepare the children's school lunches for tomorrow or just let them buy them at the cafeteria, we all wonder if we need to be spending this time on our children or students or if it matter if we just give it up and take the easier, less time consuming path.

In my case, at least in this example, the answer popped into my head from an unusual education source:  Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings movies.   Everyone in our house LOVES those movies, so we have the super-extended-Directors-special editions of the DVDs that not only have the movies in their 4 or 5 hour forms with all the stuff Peter Jackson REALLY didn't want to cut, but an additional 24 hours or so of special features, Director's comments, actors' comments, background videos, etc. etc. etc.

I remembered one of those background videos we watched when we first got the movie (which was a while ago, so the following specifics may be wrong, but it is the gist that matters).  Anyway, there was one bit about some of the music that was playing behind a fight scene or something like that.  It turns out that it was an original song composed for a poem that Tolkien had written in the original books.  However, before writing the music, someone with the movies translated into Elvish or Dwarf language or something...which took some doing, since I'm not sure how much of that language has ever been, well, let's call it "discovered."  Then Peter Jackson had this notion that he wanted it sung by a big, all make, all Polynesian choir.  Nothing like that existed, so they had to advertise, audience, choose, teach, rehearse, and record this big group of Polynesian men singing this song.  All for something like 30 seconds of background music for one scene in this multi-hour epic.

Did that matter?  Was it worth all that effort for just that one little addition to that scene?  Maybe, maybe not.  What does matter, though, is having that level of commitment and attention to detail and creativity and--here's my big word--PASSION for this project.  Someone who cares that much--someone who would do all that for just one blip in his entire project--is someone who is going to make a fantastic rendition of this beloved tale.  So while that one detail may not have been "worth it," that level of passion elevates the film from the ordinary to an exemplary piece of movie-making.

The same is true for me.  I could have taken an existing lesson plan and the class I taught would certainly have been fine, and probably would even have been good (given the years of experience I have in teaching).  But I would never have had the passion for that lesson than I have for the one I developed.  Would the students tell the difference?  Again, maybe, maybe not.  But over the long haul, I know that having a teacher (or a parent) that is passionate enough to spend the time doing things that outsiders might consider excessive or rediculous or "a waste of time" is going to make more of an impact on children that one who always takes the path of least effort.

Now, before parents and teachers start freaking out about the incredible bar I've set--I'm not saying we ALWAYS have to make this choice or expend this level of time, energy, or commitment.  There are times when that just isn't possible.  Earlier in the semester, when I was teaching more classes simultaneously and had writing commitments and all this stuff going on, I had to be better at budgeting my time.  And there were times in my life, such as the last year of my mother's life when she was going downhill rapidly and we were spending lots of time just taking care of her, when my teaching has been bare bones.  So I'm not saying AT ALL that our students or children have a RIGHT to expect this level of work on each and every lesson, activity, celebration, sports event, or whatever.

So here is my balancing mentor--a Reformation era priest by the name of Martin Luther (at least I seek guidance from all sorts of sources!).  My favorite Martin Luther quote (at least as it was taught to me--researching it, there seems to be all sorts of divergent translations, since I guess he was writing in German at the time) is "Sin and Sin Boldly."  I think Luther's point was no matter how bad we were, God would forgive us and redeem us, but I don't bring it up as a religious statement.   

I think Luther's thrust was that we are human, so we aren't always perfect.  My interpretation is that whatever we do, we should embrace it.  If we are going to spend time and energy and money to do something that other people think is an incredible waste of time like...well, I'm not going to specify the many examples I have in my own life, but I'm sure you've got your own....don't worry about, just do it and be proud of your passion.  But if you are going to do something that you think is "wrong" or not-good or sub-par, well, embrace that as well.  If you are going to do it, do it with verve and PASSION!

So, for example, every now and then when I can't seem to deal with normal life, my son and I may have ice cream for lunch (ONLY ice cream, I mean) or spend the entire day in our pajamas reading.  Or, as I said, we had a year where our focus was on my mother's care and not our educational achievements.   But when we have these events, we make them special and kind of celebrate them as a departure from our routine.  What is the point of doing what we know we shouldn't do--whether it is is eating what we shouldn't eat, or slacking off from our work, or teaching a class without being prepared, or taking the easy way out in a class when we know there is a better way--if we are just going to feel guilty about it?  I believe in being passionate about what we are doing--hopefully, most of the time for positive things, but those few times when we are "breaking the rules,"well, let's enjoy them as well.  (Of course, I'm just referring to those things that can seem like a BIG DEAL to us at the time, but are not huge issues in the long run--I'm not advocating abandoning our moral or breaking civic and moral laws or anything along those lines.)  Likewise, we shouldn't spend lots of time working on a lesson or project for our children if, instead of feeling proud and excited, all we feel is tired and resentful.  

So tonight I give my thanks to two very diverse men--Peter Jackson and Martin Luther.  The lesson I have gotten from them is that it doesn't matter whether I stay up half the night working on some obscure aspect of a class or activity I'm doing for my students or child, or whether I spend 15 minutes on someone else's lesson plan and go to bed early.  What really matters is the kind of energy I get from my choice and the energy I then convey to my students or children.  If it depletes my psychic energy (not necessarily my physical energy), then don't do it.  But if it makes a difference to the passion I bring to the subject, even if nobody else seems to notice or to care--well, then, indeed, to me at least, it is "worth it."